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Wabanaki Genealogy Tip
Truth in Family Stories

Crated March 2001

This tip was inspired by our Friend - Mary Altmeyer.

K'chi Wliwni Nidoba -- GREAT THANKS MY FRIEND


She writes

This shows how stories can be passed down from generation to generation and changed around until the slightly changed stories are considered true. In my quest to answer my grandma's question on Indian blood, I researched ... Louis Normand from Quebec - my great-great grandfather. I learned that Louis Normand was ... [a descendant] of Ignace Raizenne and Elisabeth Nims. Ignace Raizenne and Elisabeth Nims were two Deerfield, MA children kidnapped by the French and Iroquois on 29 February, 1704 during the French-Indian war. Ignace Raizenne was born Josiah Rising and was adopted by the Iroquois at age 10 and given the name "Shonatakak'ani". Elisabeth Nims was born Abigail Nims and was adopted by the Iroquois at age 4 and given the name "T'atag'ach". Both children lived with their Iroquois family from 1704 to around 1713. In 1713, Abbe Maurice Quere obtained the children's release from the Iroquois Indians. The two children were placed in the Catholic Mission where they were taught in the French, English, and Indian languages. On July 29, 1715, Ignace Raizenne married Elisabeth Nims at Notre Dame de Lorette Church in *Oka. From their marriage act is the following translation;

July 29, 1715, I have married Ignace Shoentak'ani and Elisabeth T'atog'ach, both English, who wish to remain with the Christian Indians, not only renounce their nation but even wishing to live as Indians. In the presence of Jean Baptiste Haronhiatek, Gabriel Tsirok'as, Pierre Asonthen, Alexis Tarhi. Ignace Shoentak'ani, about 23 or 24 years, and Elisabeth, about 15 years old. Both were taken at Dierfile, about 13 years ago. Maurice Quere, priest.

So, these two white children were kidnapped and adopted by the Iroquois as part of their family. ... It is my belief that when my great-grandmother talked of being of Indian blood, she had heard that from her grandmother .... I strongly believe that these two children who renounced their heritage and choose to live with their Indian families did consider themselves Indians, ... the story got passed down from generation to generation until Chantal Sequin told her granddaughter that she was of Indian blood when, in fact, her ancestors were only kidnapped white children adopted by Indian families.


This is an excellent example of one of the many ways a family can have an oral tradition of Indians in the family tree, when in fact there is no Native blood to be found. The family story is not exactly untrue - it has just become confused in detail over the generations - Mary's ancestors did lived as Natives in a Native community.

This particular type of story is actually common. There where 100s of New Englanders taken captive by Indians during the colonial wars. Many of these 'white' captives did indeed become 'Indian' in their names, manners, language, and customs. Many where adopted by Native families and chose to remain in their Native communities long after they won their freedom. Others eventually returned to their New England homes with a new appreciation for Native culture and with Native habits that might be hard to break. The neighbors did not always understand or appreciate these returned captives. Many where labeled as Indians and given derogatory nicknames such as 'Injun Joe' by the neighbors.

There is another very common method for family stories to become corrupted;
As a youngster, Grammy heard stories of the adventures of 'Great Aunt Betsy the Indian' told by family elders. Over the years Grammy's memory of the details became clouded. She never knew her grandfather but knew he had siblings, one of which was a sister named Elizabeth. She thinks this sister was the 'Aunt Betsy' of the stories. If grandfather's sister was a Indian than grandfather must have been Native as well - right? Maybe, but there are other possibilities. Great Aunt Betsey may have come to the family through marriage. If she was Native, than her children (the cousins) would be part-Native, but the Native ancestry stories belong only to their line of the family. Or another common error - Great Aunt Betsey was the great aunt of Grammy's grandparents. The story has truth but is off by several generations!

So, the moral of this tip is - don't develop tunnel vision when it comes to interpreting your family's oral traditions.

Written by: Canyon Wolf for Ne-Do-Ba

*Note - the location of this marriage is probably not Oka, as that mission was not established until 5 years later.